I suspected that mustering haiku poets to write lots of polar vortex poems would act as a kind of voodoo spell to chase the polar vortex away and it looks like I was right, because the temperature has actually been above freezing here for several days in a row and I’m not sure that’s happened since early December. Of course, we’re well into March now so I suppose it’s just barely conceivable that it would have warmed up eventually anyway, but I’m going with the “breath of poetic fire” theory. I hope it’s warmer where you are, too, or cooler, or wetter, or dryer, or whatever condition is most desirable meteorologically wherever you reside. Thanks to all who contributed for helping out!
I make my own
the snow hollow
surrounding an evergreen;
Polar vortex even a whisper is too loud.
– John Ashton
the polar vortex
nanoneedles my tattoo
of the wind
as i take the last slice
me and you
coexisting warmth and cold
polar vortex –
I forget that I forgot to
rake the leaves
the falling fence (polar vortex) frozen falling down
what I thought polar vortex what is
circling spring down
polar vortex the sidewalk singer’s smack talk
somewhere a white bear
swimming in circles
the plastic covered windows
polar vortex –
the neighbor’s pond freezes
for the first time
–Julie Bloss Kelsey
lost in a polar
Arcs the Beach Grasses Etch in Sand
I keep thinking about poetry being an agent of transformation. One is a different person—one’s life is changed—after reading a poem. Even a bad poem, full of clichés and dud line breaks and flat diction. One looks up from such a poem and is surprised to be free after that little imprisonment. That’s a transformation of a sort. But a fine poem, a poem that immediately permeates one’s being, a poem which, after being read, makes the reader look around and suddenly need to reassess the room, the world—that’s why those of us who read poetry read poetry. As for those of us who write poetry—once, just once, we say to ourselves, let me write one of those world-shifters. Let me be someone’s “suddenly I see” or “oh, that’s name of that squiggly feeling I have always felt” or “so now I need to relearn how to breathe.”
I make my husband drive me
to the shore
this polar vortex
a towel snap to my solar
too numb for color
on the maps
sick of winter–
the polar vortex
–Terri L. French
what isn’t frozen
polar vortex cracks in moon blues.
a lowing in me polar vortex
his voice cracks
for the first time
What am I doing lately? What, you mean besides calling in sick to work (because I was sick, don’t get any ideas) and sitting on my couch watching endless episodes of sitcoms on Netflix? Yeah, I wish I could say that I spend all my time engaged in high-toned cultural activities and churning out creative works, but no. Sometimes I like to rot my brain like everyone else. It’s the American way.
However, I did get a package in the mail lately from an Internet retailer that doesn’t need any more free advertising, containing these books, so they’ll probably be getting a look-in soon (you know, as soon as I’m done with the pressing task of finishing the first season of “How I Met Your Mother”):
And also I’ve been enjoying viewing and contributing to Aubrie Cox’s annual Doodleku festival over at Yay Words!, this year in glorious color.
And also, also, also, the latest issue of Haibun Today features a very thoughtful and insightful commentary by Rich Youmans on my haibun “The Shape of Water.” I think it’s quite likely that Rich understands this haibun better than I do, which doesn’t surprise me at all — sometimes I wonder if I have the faintest idea what I’m doing when I write. (This issue of HT also features a lot of great haibun by people who are not me, because I need to get cracking.)
I’ll be back tomorrow with your polar vortex poems. I’m pleased to report that writing poetry about it seems to have driven the polar vortex away and I’m hoping that this time it will stay in the actual polar region. 41 degrees today! I went out today without a coat (please, who needs a coat when it’s above freezing?) and tried to chip some of the ice off my driveway, but winter laughed at me. There’s like three inches of ice, it’s not going anywhere until actual spring arrives, wearing a jaunty hat and promising to stay forever. The lying tramp.
In the bare branches of the lilac, clusters of oak leaves are lodged like lost mittens.
a snowy morning arranging for its own meaning
In other news:
A ton of people have sent me polar vortex poems so far, which is great because it’s still so cold here that poetry is basically the only thing keeping me sane. You can send me any you’ve got till tomorrow morning. I’ll post them over the weekend.
This guy keeps texting me pictures of himself with the Dalai Lama. For years he’s been making the arrangements for the Dalai Lama’s visits to our city, and at this point he has the logistics down cold. Or pretty cold. It can be complicated. You have to have a big enough van, first of all, to pick up the Dalai Lama’s entourage and all their luggage from the airport. You have to arrange for the limos and the police escort to take the Dalai Lama swiftly through the city streets to his speaking engagement. The Dalai Lama has a security detail, of course; well, he’s a world leader, more or less. You have to go through a background check, State Department, heavy-duty, to get the clearance to take care of things for the Dalai Lama this way. Having this responsibility is exciting, yes, but not exactly a party. If you don’t get all these details right it could be very embarrassing, maybe even dangerous — for both the Dalai Lama and everyone around him — so for a couple of weeks, before and during the Dalai Lama’s visit, this guy doesn’t get much sleep. There are so many things to arrange and so many things to worry about. The guy doesn’t really have time to talk or hang out. Just text, apparently.
my ego in spite of the rain
The Dalai Lama, you’ll be interested to know, is exactly the same close up as he seems from a distance. This is what the guy tells me, anyway. I try to think of how the Dalai Lama seems from a distance. Orange and smiling, mostly. And yes, the guy’s right: that’s how the Dalai Lama looks in the closeup photos the guy texts me. Keeps texting me. “He’s very genuine and compassionate. You know. Just like you imagine,” the guy said to me, the first time we met. I didn’t tell him that I’d never imagined the Dalai Lama. I’m not sure the guy would believe me.
apropos of nothing its wings
I did think vaguely of becoming a Buddhist at one point. I read some books, did some meditating. I looked up Buddhist groups in our city to see when they held meetings, but I never actually went to any of the meetings. This Japanese poetry I write, a lot of the other people who write it are Buddhists, or at least think about Buddhism a lot. I’m constitutionally irreligious but Buddhism seems pretty irreligious, for a religion. I thought it might be a sort of compromise between the fundamentalist Christianity I was raised with and the nothing I currently practice. In the end I guess I was defeated, as I so often am, by the fact that it’s almost impossible for me to believe in invisible things. I think I consider this more a flaw in myself than a flaw in religion but I’ve gradually learned that to be true to myself I have to accept even my flaws. I think I might have read that in one of the Buddhist books.
just barely a path regretting it
to get their own fire they abandoned time the cold bed
Wow. I did it. Posted every day in February. Thanks to all who came to hang out with me again. I’ll probably be dialing down the frequency a notch now but I’m not going away because I remembered that I actually like this stuff. And you. (Though I think I’m done with erasing “Melissa” for a while because man, doing that hurt my head. And Taylor Caldwell’s prose like to kill me.)
the thing I won’t touch
at the back of the closet
Apparently on a global level it was actually quite toasty this winter but that is not really a subject you should bring up in polite company in Wisconsin. This winter, anything above ten degrees Fahrenheit here has been a cause for moderate celebration, and above twenty we would just leave our coats at home and go picnic on the shores of the forlorn frozen lakes, except that above twenty pretty much never happens. Right now the polar vortex is visiting us for the third time in two months, or is it the fourth, and if it weren’t for the fact that “polar vortex” is such a fantastic kigo, I’d be in the depths of despair.
Actually, I love the term “polar vortex” so much, and am additionally so desperate for social interaction, even if all it involves is talking about the weather, that I’m going to throw a challenge out there. Polar vortex me, baby. I mean, write a haiku or two (or I don’t care, tanka, haibun, haiga, what have you) using the phrase “polar vortex” and send them to me, reddragonflyhaiku AT gmail DOT com, by…let’s see…March 4th. March Forth.
Then on…let’s see…March 8th, which is International Women’s Day, not that that has anything to do with anything but I’m making this all up as I go along because I’m bored, I’ll publish whichever ones I feel like publishing on this blog. That will probably be most of the ones I get but, you know, I can’t promise anything. I’m unreliable like that.
Don’ts: Don’t send me anything you think you might like to try to publish later in one of the journals that doesn’t accept work that previously appeared in public. Don’t worry, you get to keep the copyright to your work. Don’t be dissuaded if you have not actually personally experienced the polar vortex, except that in that case I hate you, unless you’ve been experiencing something equally horrific like a drought or a flood, which most of the world seems to have been. Oh, and also if you have any art related to the polar vortex that you would like to share, feel free to send that along too. Don’t forget to tell all your friends, unless you have better things to talk about with your friends than the weather.
Okay, I’m done talking now. Run along and write. Is it cold enough for you?
inside me there’s another reason polar vortex
The spam blog commenters are getting really creative–it seems that in their efforts to be misidentified as real people they are using bots to scrape text off websites or somewhere and mash it together at random. Sometimes this results in banality and sometimes in eerily beautiful stuff I can only call auto-generated found poetry. Man, I wish I could suppress my rational mind long enough to write stuff like this.
Mustard jogged his or her hands and wrists delicately bust, leaving behind them yelled, his or her lose faith, he / she used some a long time clear of metropolis, he / she seemed to be absent, having agony in addition to hoping, this coach started off, appreciate, appears to be to not ever far too.
Through the Red , never expect to leave a name and a surname, heart, such as the horizon, we see everything through the scenery , do not want to disturb anyone , waved his hand , whether right or wrong, regardless of nostalgia or not, everything is floating in the back of the head .
In fact , sometimes, some things need to remember, however , we’ll never forget !Perhaps street street Red, no one will ever hold is maintained , those passing years , such as sand , missing ; smoke, drooping ; dream, disappeared.
Now we finally know what it meant to her jealousy , envy is to your heart , your thoughts and everything , like the clothes wringer like crumpled , it hurts , it hurts , it hurts , really hurts
I feel like any day now you’ll write a note
to say forget all that deepest regrets
and while reading it I’ll be seized
no I mean literally from behind
by the hair
and it’s the one I meant to all along
it’s the one apostle they always thought
would give in someday
it’s that one buck someone saw
back when summer no fair shooting
I mean to say you know what I mean
but since we’ve both forgotten
why not drive
out into the country where the hills
make you slightly sick riding over them
and ride, over them
Yes I blatantly more or less stole the structure of this poem from John Berryman who JOHN BERRYMAN. Sometimes when I read the work of poets I really love it hurts, literally. Not in a jealous way but just, I don’t know. Aesthetic pain. Goodness hurts. You know what I mean, right? Is it just me? Please tell me it’s not just me.
This is why it sometimes takes me longer to finish reading books of poetry I love than books of poetry I’m meh about. I’ve been known to take two years to finish a book of poetry I really love because I can’t read more than a page without feeling like I’m having a heart attack. Heavy feeling in chest, shortness of breath. Not that that would be a bad way to go. Death by poetry. Just not yet, oh no, too much to write, too little time, too much love.
try to remember what she wore in the morning
her name in a song carnival sounds
after the shaved ice a glimpse of her thigh
the shade of her lipstick matches her scar
the oddness of her garments when it rained
an invented memory of losing her number
her name worked in silver hangs from her neck
the color of the makeup covering her scars
melt down the candle to mold her face
her half-empty glass among all the others
The final class in my “Lie, Cheat, & Steal” poetry workshop was last night. I feel a little bereft now. I kind of feel like I want to teach my own poetry workshop, maybe one entitled, “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing But Hey, Let’s Just Get Down with Some Words and See What Happens.”
It fascinates me how much more fun it is for me to talk about writing poetry than writing fiction. I took a lot of fiction-writing classes in my younger days, and also in regular English classes they always seemed to be going on about how to write fiction, and even though I like writing fiction it drives me nearly out of my mind to talk about it. I mean, it’s a story. Just tell the damn story.
I have never had a bad time talking about poetry, though. There’s always something to say. There’s always something to hear. Poetry is just crazy. No one really understands it, so you can kind of say anything.
Anyway. We did a couple of fun exercises, the first of which involved looking at a denatured, alphabetized list of all the words in someone else’s poem (we hadn’t read the original poem and didn’t know who wrote it), and trying to use just those words (some subset of them) to write our own poem. The words turned out to be from a pretty great poem by Li-Young Lee called “Early in the Morning“–we got to read it at the end. It was interesting, I found myself just trying to write haiku during this exercise, which I hadn’t done before in the class. My brain felt slow and small, which I think is probably normal. All I could come up with was this:
she pulls her head out
Which, appropriately, is a slow, small poem. Though I like it a little bit.
Second exercise: Writing a response to another poem. Taking their premise and some of their language to produce your own take on the situation. I’ve done this before, actually a fair amount, with haiku, but not with longer poems. I’m still working on my response, maybe I’ll put it out there when I’m done.
So: I’m a liar, a cheater, a thief. This appeals to my natural instinct to do whatever it is other people don’t want me to do, which is probably a healthy instinct for a poet. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) The thing with poetry is that you’re trying to see things the way everyone else doesn’t see them. It’s really hard to do. If you’re too much in sympathy with other people or find yourself agreeing with them most of the time, it’s even harder. You have to be a little bit contrary, possibly even slightly obnoxious, maybe even mildly criminal, though I would recommend against being positively mean or getting arrested. Unless you feel that a lengthy period of solitary confinement would be beneficial for your creative development, but probably better to just find a cave or something in that case. Let me know if you find a good one.
moonlight where the word is not enough
He thought I unfriended him and I thought he unfriended me. However it happened, we’re no longer friends. It’s nice that it’s possible to identify this state with such clarity now.
till the story’s over till east till west
I wrote a lot of poetry as a young child — aged seven, eight, nine. That may have been the time of my life when I was most confident in my poetic ability. It may have been the time of my life when I was most confident in all my abilities. Once you’ve knocked around the world a little, it’s hard to maintain the pleasant illusion that no one else can do things any better than you can.
Anyway, naturally (or it seems natural to me, but maybe it’s not natural any more for children to do this?), all the poetry I wrote in this early part of my life rhymed. I’d been a big, big nursery rhyme fan in an earlier stage of my childhood, so maybe that was what did it. I knew all those damn things by heart — the Queen of Hearts, she baked some tarts — and I took them all to heart. I loved rhyme, the sound of it, the feel of it, and, aside from writing poetry, I used to spend hours and hours making lists of words that rhymed (maybe I was unaware of the existence of rhyming dictionaries that made this task unnecessary, or maybe I just didn’t care). There is something ineffably satisfying about words that rhyme, something that sighs with relief and pleasure in the back of our brains when we hear those matching sounds.
I wonder when I look at the stars,
As I stare,
I see dogs and cats,
Mice and rats…
Around fourth grade, though, I began to catch on that rhyming poetry, for the most part, was just Not Done anymore by serious adults writing for other serious adults. I was very serious at this age and I hoped to be an adult some day, so (I imagine regretfully) I knocked it off with the rhyming and started to write free verse that even at the age of ten I could tell was absolutely dreadful. I mean, all my rhyming poetry, I now knew in retrospect, had been absolutely dreadful too, but at least, you know, it rhymed. It had that going for it. It sounded good, even if it meant nothing, or nothing worth saying.
What I found astonishing was how much more seriously so many adults took my poetry once I started writing poetry that didn’t rhyme. It was as if the fact that my poems bore a superficial resemblance to the kind of poetry they knew was supposed to be Really Good Poetry, instead of to, say, greeting card verse, made adults (mainly teachers) stop looking for any actual sense or meaningful nonsense in the poems. Once I figured out that adults were so gullible I used to sometimes deliberately write bad poetry, which wasn’t difficult at all, and show it around, inwardly laughing at the admiring reactions I got. (I was kind of an obnoxious kid.)
So that pretty much killed my poetry-writing career, for a long, long time. I didn’t trust myself to be able to write good poetry and I wasn’t sure I entirely understood what good poetry was (although I read tons of it, and studied it, and thought about it, and memorized it, and loved it, so I’m not really sure what the disconnect is there), and I definitely didn’t trust anyone around me to tell me whether my poetry was good or not.
Every few years for the next, I don’t know, thirty years, I would be stricken with an urge to write poetry and I would do so for a few days or weeks, in a kind of inspired daze, but then I would come to my senses and look at what I had written and laugh. Or cry. Whatever. It wasn’t any good and, unlike when I wrote prose, I had absolutely no idea what to do to it to make it better. I understood prose at some deep level, I could work with prose, I was a prose whisperer, but when I wrote poetry I felt like I was writing gagged and blindfolded, with one hand tied behind my back. I just looked at it and shrugged helplessly and stopped writing it until my next fit of fever.
It wasn’t until I fell headlong into haiku that I regained any sense of confidence or control around poetry, which I’ve generally attributed to an extremely short attention span that prevents me from concentrating on any piece of writing for longer than twelve syllables or so, except that, as you can see, when it comes to prose I can still blather on with the most long-winded of them. So that can’t really be it.
And it isn’t just that I suddenly gained some deep understanding into how poetry works because quite frankly, when it comes to poetry any longer than haiku, I still feel completely at sea. I write it, but I have no more idea than I ever did whether what I write is any good or how I could make it better if it happened (I assume it usually does happen) not to be.
One big difference is that I kind of don’t care any more whether it’s good. I like writing it and I throw it out to the universe if I think there’s any hope for it and sometimes some people like it a little, which is nice, and quite often no one seems to think much of it, which is fine too. I’m not writing it for people to like it, I’m writing it to write it. I’m not sure whether that makes me confident and mature or just a lazy git with no standards. I guess it just started seeming stupid to me not to write poetry just because it might be crummy poetry, when I like writing poetry. (Also, it seems reasonable to assume that I might get better at it if I do more of it, though I’m not holding my breath.)
I haven’t really gotten brave enough to show anyone the rhyming poetry I still write occasionally, though. As if. Dream on. Dream, cream, seem, steam, beam, ream, team, gleam…
despite the plates
and cups that shatter
pretend that nothing
is the matter
*Note to my eight-year-old self: Yes.
shooting my way out of myself into winter
winter inside every square in the grid
back to placing bets